‘Watts up’ with your holiday lights?

The weather outside may be frightful, but your energy bill doesn’t have to be, if you use energy efficient holiday lights.

Whether you deck the halls inside or out, whether you use light strands to trim the tree or your house, here are some tidbits from Western’s Energy Services staff about the energy you’re using, as well as the safety aspect of decorating your home.

The following chart provides a breakdown of how much eary is consumed by different types of light bulbs. You can adjust the assumed energy price per kWh to more accurately reflect your local energy costs.

Did you know?

  • An extension cord that is too small can overheat and start a fire, without tripping the breaker.
  • A florescent flood light won’t work well when it’s below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and it may not work at all when the temperature dips below zero.
  • A string of 70 holiday lights can use as much as 350 watts, or the equivalent of two-and-a-half, three-way lamps.

Reduce holiday lighting energy use

Take safety and energy-efficient precautions when putting your lights up. “And if you’ve already put your lights up, take a look to make sure you put them up safely, so you don’t start a fire,” said Energy Services RepresentativeGary Hoffmann.

For starters, check the size of your extension cords and make sure they’re labeled with the amount of current they can carry. “When you get a new extension cord, use an indelible marker to label it with the capacity,” suggested Hoffmann. “That way if the label falls off, you still know what the capacity is.”

Also, remember not to string more than three light strands together outside because it could overload your extension cord or light strand and start a fire. “Generally, three 35-bulb cords of regular holiday lights may be connected on one extension cord,” explained Hoffmann. “But if you use light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, you may use 12 strings of 70 bulbs per string and still be O.K.”

While LED lights may cost more initially, the energy costs they will save add up. “A string of LED lights use as little as two watts, where as a night light uses four watts,” added Hoffmann. “So they cost only about three cents to operate when used about five hours a day during the holiday season.

Energy Services shared these additional facts about LED holiday lighting options:

Safety—no chance of combustion, since the bulbs are cool to the touch, regardless of how long they are left on.

Sturdy bulbs—the epoxy lenses are virtually indestructible. These lights have a different appearance from familiar incandescent models, appearing to shimmer with movement as the light passes through the faceted bulbs.

LED bulbs don’t emit the same amount of light as incandescent lamps, although some new models on the market are closer to the brightness of incandescent. “Even so, LED lights can be used for beautiful and affordable holiday decorating,” said Hoffmann.

For more information, download Energy Services’ Holiday Lighting fact sheet.

Electricity and trees: How close is too close?

As our neighborhoods and farmlands continue to mature, so do the trees that make up and characterize the property. Yet, this majestic flora can present danger when growing near transmission lines. Unfortunately, trees growing near power lines can cause a fire, as well as pose an electrical hazard to anyone in contact with the tree at ground level. Trees don’t have to physically touch an energized power line to be dangerous. Electricity can arc from the power line to nearby trees given the right conditions, such as a voltage surge on the line from a nearby lightning strike.

At Western, we ensure our transmission line rights of way—more than 17,000 miles of high-voltage line—are safe for our employees and the public. Our transmission lines all carry electricity at voltages 50 to more than 100 times the electricity flowing in neighborhood power lines.

To keep these lines sending power to millions of homes across the West, our line crews regularly patrol the lines to make sure the equipment is in good shape and conditions on the rights of way below are safe for maintenance and energy purposes.

So how close is too close for a tree?

The National Electric Safety Code specifies the minimum distances between power lines and nearby objects—including trees—based on the line’s voltage level. The code requires greater clearances for higher voltage lines.

A graphic demonstrating how far trees should be from transmission lines of various voltages

Call it how you see it…

So the next time you’re working on your land or strolling through your neighborhood, be mindful of trees that may be too close to the power lines. If you do find one, stay clear and call your local utility. In an emergency call 911 or your local utility.

Future science leader meets President

Year after year, employees across Western’s 15-state territory support local Science Bowl competitions, as well as the Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl. Volunteers know that they are helping students who might be our next scientific leader.

Our Upper Great Plains Region volunteers are particularly proud of, Mikayla Nelson and her team from Will James Middle School, who met President Barack Obama on Oct. 18, during a ceremony at the White House, to show and explain the NSB team’s winning solar car design.

 “Well, we’re going to have to have you work for one of the auto companies to get them to design the next generation of cars. This is a good start,” Obama told her.

Watch the video of Nelson explaining science to the president.

Read the full article at The Billings Gazette.